Hockey legend Balbir Singh Sr. Passes Away at 96

Article by Nitin Sharma, Photo by Kameshvar Singh, courtesy The Indian Express

riple Olympic gold medallist Balbir Singh Sr. breathed his last at a Mohali hospital on Monday, 25th May at 6:17 am. He was 96. Balbir Sr., who was member of the 1948 London Olympics gold medal-winning Indian hockey team, vice-captain of the 1952 victorious side and skipper of the 1956 champions, had been admitted to the hospital on May 8 due to pneumonia and was on ventilator support.

Balbir Singh Dosanjh was called Senior to differentiate him from five other Balbirs who played hockey for India in later years. He was the oldest surviving Olympic medallist from India, a record which now passes on to his 1948 London Olympics teammate Keshav Dutt.

Born on December 31, 1923 to Sardar Dalip Singh and Karam Kaur at his maternal village of Haripur Khalsa, Balbir Sr. went on to become one of the best centre forwards India has produced. As a five-year-old, Balbir Sr. was given a hockey stick by his freedom fighter father. He started his career as a goalkeeper with his school team at Moga, before playing as a defender and later a centre-forward.

He initially played for Sikh National College, Lahore in the early 1940s before making the switch to Khalsa College, Amritsar in 1942 on the insistence of his long-time coach Harbail Singh. He captained Punjab University to three All India Inter-University titles in 1943, 1944 and 1945 before playing for undivided Punjab in the national championships of 1947 before partition.

Balbir Sr. was not among the original list of players for the training camp for 1948 Olympics, but was later included in the Indian squad of 20 players. He was one of four centre forwards in the team. He scored six goals, including a hat-trick, against Argentina in India's 9-1 win in his first and India's second game in the tournament. He was not included in the quarterfinal against Spain, and semifinal against the Netherlands.

In the final against Great Britain in a front of a 25,000 crowd at Wembley Stadium in London, Balbir Sr. scored India's first goal in the seventh minute and the second in the 15th minute. Tarlochan Singh Bawa and Pat Jensen scored the other two goals as India won the final 4-0. It was the first time that the Indian flag was unfurled in a sporting event in England.

"Seeing the Tri-colour unfurl at the Wembley Stadium in England after our victory was like flying on the clouds of joy. I can never forget the moment. It remains the biggest memory of my sporting life," he had told The Indian Express in 2018.

Balbir Sr. was the vice-captain of the Indian team led by K. D. Singh 'Babu' at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. The centre-forward scored three goals against Great Britain in the semifinal before scoring five out of the six goals against the Netherlands in the final, a record which stands till now.

At the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, Balbir Sr., now the captain of the team, scored five goals against Afghanistan in India's opening match before being injured. He played in the semifinal against Germany and final against Pakistan with an injured right hand, as India won their sixth Olympic gold medal.

Post his playing days, Balbir Sr. was the chief coach or manager of the Indian team, in which role he won the gold at the 1975 Hockey World Cup, silver at the 1982 Asian Games and bronze at the 1982 Champions Trophy.

Balbir Singh Sr.: His Hockey Stick Was A Magician's Wand

Balbir Singh Sr. with his daughter Sushbir at her residence in Chandigadh
Article by Vijay Lokapally, Photo by Akhilesh Kumar, courtesy

he hands that once held the hockey stick firmly, guiding the ball, caressing or slamming it, leaving the opponents chasing his shadow, trembled to hold a pen as he bravely tried to scribble his name. Giving an autograph seemed such an arduous task for Balbir Singh Sr., who could once produce a goal from nowhere.

His frail figure was proof of the world having whizzed by, time leaving its mark on this wonderful athlete, who dazzled on the hockey field like none other, with the glorious exception of Dhyan Chand.

Polite to a fault, Balbir Sr. sported an infectious smile. His warm hug created such positive vibes about a man who spent his life helping fellow sportsmen, his upright character a testimony to the values that underlined his commitment to his team and nation.

In his debut match at the Olympics, he scored six goals against Argentina, including a hat-trick. His next match, the final against host Great Britain was a thriller. Kishan Lal and K. D. Singh 'Babu' played barefoot after it rained. And India won 4-0, with Balbir Sr. scoring the first two goals.

The Indian team was accorded a red-carpet welcome in Bombay on their return. In Delhi, the team was feted by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Balbir Sr. would often recall those memorable days of hockey being the "darling sport" of the nation. It is said that Balbir Sr. and "Flying Sikh" Milkha Singh never required an appointment to meet the Prime Minister. "It's true. We could meet the prime minister at short notice. He loved hockey," Balbir Sr. told this writer once.

It was memorable meeting this legend at his home in Chandigarh in February 2019. The place was a virtual hockey museum, and one soaked in tales from India's glorious domination of the game. The National Flag in his room was a constant reminder of the momentous occasion in 1948 London, when he took pride in "mastering the master", Great Britain. Independent India celebrated the hockey gold on English soil, and he could relive every moment of that epic contest with minute details.

His speech was a mumble. You had to sit close because he had also become hard of hearing. He was emotionally attached to the game. A hockey defeat would result in Balbir Sr giving his meal a miss. Family members often hid the news of India's loss from him.

On one of the trips to his house, some of us expressed our desire to "feel" the gold medals. He pulled them out of his treasure box and let us hold them. "Can you feel the current?" His eyes were moist.

In his death, Balbir Sr took away with him a large chunk of hockey history, documented only in his mind. He was a kind soul, who served Indian hockey with distinction, and remained its most loyal supporter even in times of acute distress. He always advocated hope for Indian hockey.

In "The Golden Hat Trick", his captivating autobiography, he documents his attachment to the game. "Our love blossomed in London. We married in Helsinki and honeymooned in Melbourne. After a period of 11 long years (from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics), she returned to me as fresh, as gay, as charming as she ever was. This time she took me to Kuala Lumpur and we were again top of the world. I am waiting for her, my hockey fairy."

Alas, his yearning for another date with the hockey fairy shall remain an unfulfilled dream.

Balbir Singh Sr. - Always A Star Among The Stars

Article by Nandakumar Marar, courtesy Sportstar

albir Singh Sr. was part of three gold medal-winning Olympic teams before taking over as the manager of the national team. He played and managed at a time when hockey players were treated as celebrities by the movie world, and were invited to post-win felicitations and asked to play exhibition games with the reel stars.

Balbir Sr.'s two goals in India's 4-0 rout of home team Great Britain in the 1948 London Olympic Games hockey final resulted in newly independent India erupting in joy. After winning two more Olympic golds (1952 Helsinki and 1956 Melbourne), Balbir helmed India's only World Cup Hockey title win in Kuala Lumpur in 1975.

Amidst a series of felicitations nationwide, one unique event stood out. The late Raj Kapoor invited Team India, captained by midfielder Ajitpal Singh, to Mumbai, for an exhibition match against the film world. The world champions took on hockey-stick wielding actors and actresses on a makeshift pitch at the Wankhede stadium. The squad under Balbir Sr. was also invited to a grand reception at the thespian's farmhouse.

India captain Ajitpal Singh recalls: "Raj Kapoor was a great fan of sports. He invited our team to a Baisakhi function and we visited his farmhouse. We played with a team of 11, they were 20, actors and actresses coming in and going out. It was an exhibition tie for fans to enjoy." Balbir Sr., as team manager, was present at the Wankhede and watched with pride as his heroes enjoyed fame and adulation.

Hockey was the pride of Indian sport then, so playing under a manager with a lifetime of achievements was Ajitpal's career-high. "Sir brought out the best in his players," said the captain about Balbir Sr., whose life story later was woven into the movie "Gold", based on the 1948 Olympics triumph.

On that day at the Wankhede, the manager watched his players showcase their skills against artists of another craft. Ajitpal Singh recalls Dara Singh, Danny Denzongpa, Navin Nishcol, Prem Chopra, Asrani and Randhir Kapoor among actors on the pitch.

Mumbai's Onkar Singh, a World Cup-winning team member, whose personal album includes images from the Wankhede exhibition tie, says: "Hockey drew packed crowds across the nation. India players had fans everywhere, the public followed the sport closely." Onkar recalls the names of Rakhee and Bindu among the actresses present for the festivities.

Pandanda Kuttappa, Founder of the Kodava Hockey Festival, Passes Away

By Pratap Simha, MP, Mysuru-Kodagu constituency, published in Star of Mysore

andanda Kuttappa, fondly called Kuttani by his near and dear ones, was the brain behind 'Kodava Hockey Namme' or Kodava Hockey Festival. This festival is now recognised as one of the largest field hockey tournaments in the world. Pandanda Kuttappa breathed his last on Thursday, 7th May, 2020. The name of Pandanda Kuttappa will remain in the history books as long as hockey is played in India.

Pandanda Kuttappa was working as a bank officer. In 1997, he organised a hockey tournament for the first time in Kodagu, and 60 teams participated in that year's 'Pandanda Cup'. The number of participating teams increased every year. His name has been featured in the Limca Book of Records for being instrumental in starting the Kodava Family Hockey Tournament.

This hockey tournament is held every year in Kodagu district in the month of April and May. Each year this hockey festival is organised by one of the Kodava families, and the tournament is named after the organising family.

In 2003, this hockey festival saw the participation of the highest number of 280 teams in the Kaliyanda Cup held at Napoklu.

Over the years, this popular sport event has greatly influenced the lives of Kodavas. This has become a motivating factor for those who are willing to join Indian Army. Every year, professional teams from different parts of the country eagerly wait to watch this hockey festival.

During the British rule, hockey was a popular game of Kodavas. The Kodava clan has a long history of association with the game of hockey. The list of national-level players from Kodagu region including Maleyanda Muthappa, Paikera Kalaiah, 'The Wall' Anjaparavanda Subbaiah, former captains such as Govinda, Mollera P. Ganesh, Maneyapanda Somaiah and Arjun Halappa, Olympian Cheppudira Poonacha, coach Koothanda Poonacha, penalty corner specialist Ballachanda Len Ayyappa, Palanganda Amar Ayyamma, Raghunath, S. V. Sunil, and promising players such as Nikkin Thimmaiah, Alemada Cheeyanna, Sannuvanda K. Uthappa, and the list goes on and on.

You name any major hockey team in India, and there would be at least one Kodava in the eleven-member team. In State hockey clubs, one would certainly find either an Appanna or a Bopanna.

There goes a saying: If you throw a stone in Kodagu district, it will either hit a soldier or a hockey player. Hockey is like a religion in Kodagu, and each Kodava home has a traditional gun, as well as a couple of hockey sticks.

All the major towns in Kodagu have at least one hockey club in their area. 'Blue Star' of Madikeri, 'Dolphin' and 'Wanderers' of Somvarpet, 'Towers' of Virajpet, 'Shivaji' of Gonikoppal, 'BBC' of Gonikoppal, 'Sports Club' of Ammathi are the names of a few hockey clubs in Kodagu district.

Here is an interesting fact: It is said that both Field Marshal Kodandera M. Cariappa and General Kodandera S. Thimayya caught the attention of British because of their keen interest in hockey.

All credit to Pandanda Kuttappa for starting the Kodava Hockey Festival, which showcases that for the Kodava clan, hockey is just not a game but part of their culture.

Photograph of the Month

Photograph and Article copyright The Olympic Channel

hree-time Olympic gold medallist in hockey, Balbir Singh Sr., 96, passed away on Monday, 25th May, 2020. He had battled with multiple health complications in the past fortnight.

Balbir Singh Sr. is considered to be one of the finest forwards to have ever graced the game, and his inspirational leadership helped Indian hockey win their hat-trick of Olympic golds in 1948, 1952 and 1956.

He scored in both the 1948 and 1952 Olympics finals, and his five goals against the Netherlands in the latter still stands as the record for most goals scored in a men's Olympic final.

In the 1956 Olympics final against Pakistan, the Indian hockey legend played through a fracture in his favoured right hand to guide them to a 1-0 victory and ensure a sixth consecutive gold medal.

Balbir Singh Sr. later went on to become the coach of the Indian hockey team, and inspired them to a bronze medal at the inaugural 1971 World Cup before being at the helm for the country's only World Cup victory in 1975.

Money Matters

he Indian women's hockey team's online fund-raiser Food for All on raised funds of over ₹21 lakh (over $28,000) from 451 supporters to help in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

The online campaign, which ran from 17th April to 3rd May, involved team members coming up with different fitness tasks that ranged from lunges to squats to pushups, and more. Each day a player gave a new challenge and tagged 10 people on their social media handles to take up the challenge and donate ₹100 to the fundraiser.

The funds have been donated to Delhi-based NGO Uday Foundation... The funds will be used to provide basic necessities like dry rations, soap and sanitisers for patients, migrant workers and slum dwellers.

"The response we have received was really overwhelming. People, especially Indian hockey lovers from across the globe took part in the challenge and contributed to the cause. On behalf of the Indian women's team, I would like to thank everyone who participated in this initiative to help the poor," India skipper Rani Rampal said.

Hockey India President Mohammad Mushtaque Ahmad said: "It is very heartening to see the Indian women's hockey team take up such a thoughtful initiative. I have been informed that hundreds of people have already benefitted from this cause, and this makes us extremely proud of the players. The team has shown that sports people have a big heart and come forward to help when needed."

Media Matters

Reviewed by Vikrant Parmar of The Tribune

n a cricket-crazy nation, there are only a handful who are attached to our national game - hockey. Leading the pack is journalist-author Sundeep Misra, who in his collection of articles titled The Mohammed of Benares And Other Stories, delves deep into the world of hockey and comes out with pearls that will forever be prized by the ones who love the game.

Starting from India's thrashing at the hands of Pakistan in the 1982 Asian Games, to the gradual resurgence and eventual triumph at the Junior World Cup in 2016, the author has covered hockey from various perspectives - be it players, coaches, support staff or the political angles involved.

So while there are interesting stories related to stars like Mohammed Shahid, "whose wrists worked like a windmill", Dhanraj Pillai, Dilip Tirkey, Rajiv Mishra, Sardar Singh and more, also in focus are able coaches like Cedric D'Souza.

The author's love for hockey comes out in each word he chisels, while his passion for the sport is imbued in each line. This one is surely for the hockey-lover out there.

A few of the articles in the book include

  • When Hockey Broke a Million Hearts
  • The Mohammed of Benares
  • The Colossal Drama of India vs. Pak
  • Islah and his Romance for the Past
  • KPS Gill: The King who could never be Emperor

The book can be found on Amazon here.

Fun With Numbers

Statistics by B. G. Joshi

he June 2020 edition of Fun with Numbers is on the biggest margin of victories in elite tournaments in both men's and women's hockey.

  • In the Olympics, USA has the largest loss in both men's hockey (vs. India, 1932) and women's hockey (vs. South Africa, 2012)
  • In the Champions Trophy, New Zealand has the largest loss in both men's hockey (vs. Australia, 2010) and women's hokey (vs. Australia, 1987)
  • In men's international hockey, the largest margin of victory is New Zealand 39 - Papua New Guinea 0 in a 2007 Oceania Cup match in Buderim, New Zealand
  • In women's international hockey, the largest margin of victory is Canada 34 - Guatemala 0 in a 2014 Hockey World League Round 1 match in Gudalajara, Mexico
Category Tournament Year Venue Stage Winner Loser Score
Men's Hockey Olympics 1932 Los Angeles League India USA 24-1
  World Cup 2010 New Delhi Pool Australia South Africa 12-0
  Champions Trophy 1992 Karachi League Australia France 9-1
    2010 Monchengladbach League Australia New Zealand 9-1
  Hockey World League Finals 2015 Raipur Pool Australia Canada 6-0
  Hockey Pro League 2019 Krefeld, GER League Belgium Germany 8-0
Women's Hockey Olympics 2012 London Pool South Africa USA 7-0
  World Cup 2018 London Pool Netherlands Italy 12-1
  Champions Trophy 1987 Amsterdam League Australia New Zealand 8-0
  Hockey World League Finals 2013 Tucuman, ARG Pool Netherlands Germany 6-0
  Hockey Pro League 2020 North Carolina League Netherlands USA 9-0